By Edgardo Civallero | Sara Plaza
Tarkas and anatas
The tarka, tarca, tarkha or tarqa (known as anata in Argentina) is an aerophone belonging to the pinkillos family, of Aymara origin, which is traditionally played in those regions occupied or influenced by this Andean people: southern Peru, Bolivian Altiplano and nearby areas, northern Chile and north-western Argentina. It is an instrument of the family known as fipple flutes made of wood from mara, molulo, tarko or cedar, all of which grow abundantly in the humid areas of western Bolivia. The square wooden piece (though sometimes it can be either round or octagonal) is drilled longitudinally and a wooden plug (known as block or fipple) is placed at the mouth-end. At the distant-end half the wood is thinned and six finger-holes are cut on the front.
Sometimes, its surface is carved and profusely decorated. It can even be painted and varnished, though not that common. In the last case, the resulting flute is seen by musicians as a tourist souvenir rather than as a traditional instrument.
Tarkas can also be made of other materials such as cane, and there are some examples from Uyuni (department of Oruro, Bolivia) made of tin. The latter are usually made by the players themselves while the wooden ones require the knowledge and experience of skilled carpenters and luriris (luthiers).
Generally speaking, the most popular ones are those square, reddish-brown tarkas made of mara wood, which are handmade by the artisans of the Walata Grande community (department of La Paz, Bolivia). There are other variants of tarka made of white tarko wood, whose section can be either round or octagonal. They are very thick (up to 8 cm in diameter), dense and heavy, and nowadays are constructed in the Pampa Aullagas community (province of Ladislao Cabrera, department of Oruro). Known as "orureñas", these tarkas are usually played in the highlands of the department of Oruro, mostly in the region of Salinas de Garci Mendoza and Curahuara de Carangas, where, according to tradition, they would have originally come from.
The tarkas are played in tropas, ensembles featuring from 10 to 50 players, with only percussion accompaniment. Each tropa consists of between two and four sizes (though those called ayawayas include only one), all playing the same melody at fixed intervals. This is the traditional way of performing and it is known as "tarkeada" or "tarqueada" ("anateada" in Argentina). Popular rhythms such as huaynos, pasacalles (folk music parades) or marches are played by these ensembles of aerophones. Traditionally, as it happens with the rest of the tropas of Andean wind instruments, players dance while blowing through their flutes.
In north-western Argentina, however, it is common to see a single "anatero" (anata player) who, accompanied by a bombo, plays the so-called "saltos de anata", round dance songs.
The distinctive sound of the tarka is definitely a very peculiar one: it has what in Quechua language is known as "t'aras" and in Aymara "richas", a series of harmonics which result in a husky, raspy, throaty roar. The tarka covers a two-octave range. However, most "tarkeros" (tarka players) prefer the high octave which makes it sound even more strident and harsh. Getting the high octave requires a good pair of lungs and players themselves state that it is impossible to blow through the tarka with delicacy, since what gives this flute its personality is the powerful blow that "makes it cry".
The fact that tarkas are played in large tropas and they are not "tuned" to each other (from the European point of view) makes the resulting sound half magic, half disturbing. This sound is as distinctive and easily recognizable as difficult to understand by listeners who are not familiar with the purest and oldest musical traditions in the Andes.
Among the Aymara the tarka is considered one of the Carnival's musical manifestations par excellence. It is a flute to be played at the jallu pacha or rain period (from All Saints, at the beginning of November, to the Carnival, in February/March), either in rituals to thank the Pachamama and the Sereno, to put bad spirits (saqra) away or to convene the dead. In some parts of the Andes it is said that its "crying" would attract the rain and the hail, while in other regions it is believed that it moves the unwanted rains away.
The origins of its name remain a mystery. Among the many theories as to the source of it, Ludovico Bertonio's Aymara dictionary (1612) includes the term "tarcaca": "voz ronca, enronquecer, terco, mal mandado, duro" ("husky voice, to go hoarse, stubborn, difficult person to give orders to, harsh"). Undoubtedly, this definition clearly illustrates the inimitable harsh and husky singing of this flute.
Tarka, in Wikipedia.
Article. "Rito y música de tarka en la Anata andina", in EducaBolivia [es].
Article. "Primera aproximación a la acústica de la tarka", by Arnaud Gerard A.. In Revista Boliviana de Física, 13(13), 2007 [es].
Video 01. "El alizal", by Conjunto de tarkeada "Juventud Hijos de Huanara" (Perú).
Video 02. "Panti pantisito", by Tarkeada "Proyección Cultural Andina" Bolivia).
Video 03. "Adiós, pueblo de Ayacucho", by Tarkeada "Proyección Chacamarma" de Huancané (Perú).
Video 04. Tarkeada "Santiago de Machaca" (Bolivia).
Video 05. Tarqueada in Visviri (Chile).
Video 06. Tarqueada "Las Cruces" (Puno, Perú).
Pictures A y B: Edgardo Civallero